Moving to Florida and spending the days on the links may be the cliché associated with retirement, but that’s not the preferred lifestyle for this incoming wave of newly 55+ retirees. Instead, it’s the Western United States, spanning Arizona to Montana to Washington, which is proving a draw as reported in The Gold Rush: How Public Lands Draw Retirees and Create Economic Growth written by the Center for Western Priorities. Instead of golf courses and shopping being desired amenities, it’s protected public lands, such as wilderness areas, national parks, recreation areas and wildlife refuges, because of their recreation opportunities. And this desire to spend retirement outdoors is evidenced by a steady increase in the number of purchased American the Beautiful Senior Passes for the past seven years, with a reported 395,597 in 2007 to 509,647 in 2014.
Between 2000 and 2010, more than half a million seniors moved to the Western United States, so what is the draw? A survey conducted by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project found that the top three reasons seniors choose to live in the West are “clean air, clean water and environment,” a “healthy outdoor lifestyle” and “ability to live near, recreate on and enjoy public lands like national parks and forests.” What you would expect to be the primary draw, access to healthcare, ranked fourth on the list.
Figure 1. Survey results of the Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project
Courtesy of The Gold Rush: How Public Lands Draw Retirees and Create Economic Growth, March 11, 2015
But it's not just the availability of protected public lands, concentration is also a factor; the report noted that retirees are three times more likely to move to a community with more protected public land than they are to move to a community with less protected public land. This new influx of retirees also has an additional benefit for the communities—job creation. The report found that one job is created for every 1.8 retirees who move to a community. These jobs span all business sectors including banking, construction and health care services.If this trend of moving to the West continues as more baby boomers enter retirement, it won't be golf clubs that we often visualize in association with retirement. Instead, it will soon be hiking boots and skis.